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Jury Awards Widow $20M in BNSF Crash

STEELE, Mo. (CN) - A jury awarded $20 million to the widow of a southeast Missouri businessman who was killed in a 2012 train collision.

A Stoddard County jury returned the verdict in favor of Sherry Spence against Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway on Tuesday. Associate Judge Stephen Mitchell entered the sum of $19 million plus court costs to Spence after the jury found five percent of fault attributable to her late husband, Scott Spence.

On Oct. 20, 2012, Scott Spence, 53, was hit by a Burlington train as he attempted to cross the tracks in his Chevy Silverado. Scott Spence, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was thrown from his vehicle.

Sherry Spence's attorneys argued that the crossing was defective due to inappropriate sight distances and because it lacked lights or a gate.

"The jury understood that safety cannot be sacrificed for money," Cape Girardeau attorney J. Michael Ponder, who represented Spence, said in a statement. "This lawsuit was about accountability, to ensure additional lives aren't endangered merely to protect BNSF's bottom line. We're happy the jury held BNSF responsible for their actions by awarding this verdict."

A Burlington spokesman told the Southeast Missourian that the company is evaluating the verdict and weighing its options.

"BNSF respects the jury's time and effort it devoted to this case, and we will evaluate how best to address the multiple irregularities in the trial," BNSF spokesman Mike Trevino said. "While everyone recognizes the emotional and sympathetic nature of this grade-crossing accident, there was no evidence presented of negligence by the railroad, and the evidence clearly shows that the motorist did not stop at the crossing. Regardless of this litigation's ultimate outcome, BNSF recognizes the loss suffered by the Spence family and again extends its condolences."

Steele, with a population of 2172, is 200 miles south of St. Louis in Missouri's boot heel.

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